Their styles are different: One quarterback uses his feet nearly as much as his arm, the other is a more conventional pocket passer.
One of them needed a bit more time as a rookie before being promoted to the starting job. The other was No. 1 from Day 1.
One’s draft prospects initially were unclear; the other’s were certain from the get-go.
Welcome to the first chapter of the Mitchell Trubisky vs. Sam Darnold story: A quarterback matchup that will be at the heart of the Bears-Jets matchup on Sunday at iconic Soldier Field. Two of the NFL’s most prized young quarterbacks will do battle in a pivotal midseason matchup for both teams. The winner will take a potentially decisive step forward as the 3-3 Bears host the 3-4 Jets in a game whose focus will lie squarely on which quarterback outplays the other.
Their contrasting styles add an element of intrigue to the matchup, as Trubisky, one of the most mobile quarterbacks in today’s game, goes against Darnold, who offers a more prototypical pocket passer approach. How each team’s defense deals with the other team’s quarterback almost certainly will go a long way toward determining who wins.
“Trubisky gets out of the pocket, he runs the ball very well, he gets in and out of the pocket, throws the deep ball, throws the quick balls,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said of the No. 2 overall pick in 2017. “He’s playing well.”
For the most part, so is Darnold. He has been mostly steady so far this season, showing general improvement through the first six games before falling flat in last week’s 37-17 loss to the Vikings. Darnold was a miserable 17-for-42 for 206 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the worst start of his career. He already has shown an admirable ability to bounce back after subpar starts, and he’s hoping that holds true against the Bears.
It won’t be easy, though. Not only is the Bears’ defense much improved with the addition of pass rusher Khalil Mack, who has been slowed in recent weeks by an ankle injury, but the Jets are dealing with their own injury issues on offense. Running back Bilal Powell is out for the season with a neck injury, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa continues to deal with an ankle injury, and now Robby Anderson has an ankle problem. The Jets signed receiver Rishard Matthews, a seven-year veteran who asked for and received his release from the Titans after playing in three games this season.
No excuses, though.
“Guys have got to step up,” Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “It’s part of the league and it’s an opportunity for guys to make their mark in the National Football League and continue to get better.”
Darnold isn’t flinching, which is in keeping with what has been an extraordinarily good leadership skill set. His teammates have come to appreciate his even-keeled demeanor, and even though he’s only 21, he has command of the huddle and the locker room.
The coming weeks will provide more tests of that leadership. The injuries, the difficult schedule and the grind of the regular season for a rookie — especially a rookie quarterback — will be challenging. Just as it was for Trubisky, who last year took over from Mike Glennon as the Bears’ starter after four games.
It was an up-and-down season for the former North Carolina star, who went 4-8 and threw only seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions. But Trubisky has benefited from the experience and has been a markedly better quarterback this season. He has completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also is the Bears’ second-leading rusher with 245 yards and two touchdowns.
Like Darnold, Trubisky struggled last week at home, as the Bears lost a 38-31 shootout to the Patriots. Trubisky had two touchdown passes but also threw two interceptions. He added a career-high 81 rushing yards, including an 8-yard touchdown run.
“I’m going to continue to stay aggressive,” he told reporters this past week. “Coach [Matt] Nagy has my back all the way, which I appreciate. My teammates have my back, which I appreciate. So I’m trying to make plays for this offense, but I know I’ve got to take care of the football. That’s the No. 1 thing for this offense to be successful.”
Bowles has noticed a big difference in Trubisky from last year.
“His command of the offense in Year 2 is very much more sound than it was the first year, just being a rookie,” Bowles said. “But he’s playing well.”
The future looks bright for both quarterbacks, especially against the backdrop of other young passers who have flourished at an early age. Just look around the league and you’ll find plenty of quarterbacks under the age of 26 who are flourishing: Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, who has emerged as a star in Year 2. Jared Goff of the Rams. Carson Wentz of the Eagles. Deshaun Watson of the Texans.
The veteran stalwarts such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and others are still going strong. But with promising young talent coming up through the ranks, it looks as if NFL offenses will be in fine shape in the coming years.
Darnold and Trubisky should be a part of that trend.
“My journey with the Jets has been amazing,” Darnold said. “Rookie season can kind of be a whirlwind at times. For me so far, it’s gone by pretty fast, especially having the three games in 11 days to start off the year, but it’s been amazing. It’s been an awesome locker room. The guys have been amazing throughout the whole experience. Again, just every single week just trying to get better.”
Next up: A highly anticipated duel against Trubisky.
It won’t be the last.
UP & COMERS
Comparing Mitch Trubisky and Sam Darnold’s seasons:
6 Games 7
3-3-0 Record 3-4-0
139/211 Cmp/Att 124/221
65.9 Cmp pct 56.1
1,594 Passing yds 1,552
13 TDs 10
97.1 QB rating 74.2